Jamilah King, Kristina Rizga and Tomas Palermo
December 27, 2008
Election Victory: Yes We Did!
Concerned with the declining economy and inspired by the positive rhetoric of President-elect Obama, 23 million young people came out to vote on November 4th — the largest number since 1972 and 3.4 million more than in 2004. While youth turnout has been increasing for the past three election cycles, this year, the epithet of youth apathy was finally laid to rest. The vast majority of pundits and mainstream media outlets recognized the power of the youth vote, thanks in part to the unprecedented volunteering among first-time voters. Hundreds of youth groups like Power Vote, Generation Vote, Rock the Vote and the Bus Federation worked behind the scenes to help organize and channel youth energy. (Credo Mobile team — though not youth-led — deserves top prize this year for designing an easy-to-use voter registration widget for Rock the Vote that made the needlessly cumbersome voter registration process as quick as buying music online.)
Labor Victory: Young People Protect Farmworker Rights
Every year, between one and three million migrant workers tend American farms, moving across the country to follow seasonal crops (PDF). In Florida, farmworkers labor 10 to 12 hours a day, collecting some 4,000 pounds of tomatoes to earn Florida’s minimum wage. What’s worse, some of these impoverished workers are forced into involuntary servitude. The Florida-based immigrant-laborer-led Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been organizing and fighting since 1993 for fairer wages and to put an end to what Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Doug Molloy has called the “biggest, ugliest slavery cases ever.” Fast-food chains are the biggest buyers of fresh produce in Florida and they often use legal loopholes to buy products supplied by uncertified suppliers.
Recognizing that fast-food chains concentrate their marketing efforts on young people, CIW is effectively collaborating with the Student/Farmworker Alliance. Last year, they got McDonald’s and Taco Bell to pay an extra penny per pound to tomato suppliers, nearly doubling the wages of the impoverished pickers in Florida. This year, thanks to the relentless marches, boycotts and “Fair Food Tours,” Burger King and Subway (the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes) also agreed to help improve wages and working conditions for the laborers who pick their tomatoes.